Formerly Unasked yet Common Questions2
This new edition of the FUCQs supercedes, when conflict arises, all statements made in past editions. If there's no conflict, past statements are still likely to apply.
- Quick! Elevator Pitch (take 2)!
- Why communities? What about personal spaces?
- What (and why) are Realms?
- Will Realms be able to communicate with each other?
- What features is BobaBoard going to have? Can you promise me a specific one?
- If I were to join BobaBoard now, would I like it?
- When will Realms launch? How will you select Realm owners?
- How much money will BobaBoard need? How will the level of profits influence BobaBoard’s future?
- How did you spend your “funding” until now? How will you spend it from now on?
- How long is your current runway? What happens if you run out of money?
- Do you know more about your business model now? What options are you considering?
- Community Guidelines
Q Quick! Elevator Pitch (take 2)!
BobaBoard is a social media software platform designed for the needs of fandom communities. It prioritizes privacy and safety in a framework that includes high levels of customization and fine-grained permissions options, encouraging creative expression and multimedial communication.
While any type of community may use BobaBoard, development is focused on the needs and interests of transformative fandom.
What makes BobaBoard special, among others, is its exploration of fluidity of identity and anonymity-first in online spaces: while individual communities are able to set their own identity requirements, BobaBoard’s software makes it possible to moderate communities even when no stable identity is present, and allows users to disclose details about themselves and their activity to others in a conscious, safe, and gradual fashion.
Within this environment, BobaBoard does not attempt to define how online spaces should look or function. Rather, BobaBoard empowers people to make conscious, informed choices about the communities they decide to join or build. It also helps them avoid the ones that do not align with their interests or cultural values. BobaBoard’s focus is thus not indiscriminate community growth, but the creation of small pockets of the internet that align with the needs and culture of individuals seeking connection.
Q Why communities? What about personal spaces?
Without software support for community-building, users are deprived of the ability to define their collective norms and spaces, and to create and enforce scalable boundaries between themselves and others. This inevitably hinders their ability to shamelessly revel in their passions: when too many people are forcibly crammed together, they will eventually spend more time preoccupied with avoiding each other’s toes than focusing on all the different ways their favorite characters might bone.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that personal spaces aren’t important, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t need ones built to better suit fandom needs. Still, every platform that hopes to achieve lofty goals needs somewhere to start from. It’s much easier to build personal spaces where communities already exist than to carve communities out of individual-focused spaces. After all, there’s no limit to how small a community can be. Just like a fandom, sometimes the best community is just you, your headcanons, and forcibly ignoring what everyone else is doing.
Q What (and why) are Realms?
Realms are self-governed, independent communities whose members agree to abide by the rules set by their owners. You can think of Realms as similar to old-day forums or Discord servers: administrators have a high degree of liberty in choosing allowed topics and behaviors, governance mechanisms and rule enforcement, and who or what is welcome (or not welcome) in their space.
The concept of Realms is central to BobaBoard’s vision of prioritizing empowerment over prescriptivism, and to help different cultural pockets thrive. While BobaBoard’s official “Galaxy”—that is, the group of Realms created on its platform—will have its own policies and baseline expectation of behavior, those requirements will not be built into the software itself. We believe in the value of a hands-off approach coupled with an active interest in the health of our broader community, sensible escalation mechanisms, and a commitment to continuously improving our own tools and philosophy. This will help us scale moderation while allowing the individual character of each Realm to naturally emerge.
Of course, for Realms to work at their full potential, we must go beyond simply creating them. We need to make it easy for administrators to set rules and expectations, and for newcomers to understand, navigate, and remember these, even as they jump from Realm to Realm and Board to Board. The problem of sustaining healthy communities is not only an issue of policy, but an issue of user experience.
Q Will Realms be able to communicate with each other?
Not immediately. We believe in strengthening our tools for individual communities before moving on to interactions across them. As we grow our understanding of how Realms and the people in them operate, we’ll be on the lookout for ways we can improve this experience.
Of course, users will be able to join multiple Realms with a single BobaBoard account. We’re also considering cross-Realm feeds to help them keep up to date with what’s happening in their neighbourhood.
Q What features is BobaBoard going to have? Can you promise me a specific one?
The guiding principle behind BobaBoard’s product roadmap is that, at any point in time, BobaBoard should be an imperfect but delightful product for an as-small-as-possible (albeit progressively larger) set of users.
There are many reasons for this choice, chief above all the fact that any seasoned entrepreneur will tell you it’s the best way to build a successful product. It’s tempting to create a sprawling features roadmap, and even easier to make promises you might not be able to maintain (no matter how good your intentions). While that creates excitement and “buzz” in the short term, it’s very likely to lead to heartbreak and resentment in the longer run.
Not only do we not want to overpromise and underdeliver, but we also don’t want to be tied to outdated promises, made before we deeply understood our own product. With BobaBord, we’re striving to build something different; it’s important to leave ourselves space to explore and change our minds, to go in directions that might make people question our judgement, and to continuously listen to as many fandom folks as possible, always on the lookout for new ways of achieving our goals.
Another reason behind this principle is money. It’s really hard, at this time, to evaluate the type of revenue BobaBoard will be able to achieve. Many products have failed because they were built with the assumption of a much larger paying audience than they were ever able to attract. You know what they say: “You should shoot for the moon to (worst case scenario) land among the stars.” Still, that’s only true if we actually start reaching for them, rather than running out of budget halfway through building the perfect rocket engine.
BobaBoard’s philosophy ensures that the software will grow at a sustainable pace, and that if—for any reason!—we fail to achieve our long-term goals, we’ll still have built something of real value.
Q If I were to join BobaBoard now, would I like it?
Maybe. Or maybe not. BobaBoard is currently in alpha state, and it’s missing several crucial planned features, like the ability to edit or delete posts. As of now, we estimate that 69% of people—a number we’ve of course reached through very scientific means—would hate being on BobaBoard, or at the very least would find it considerably underwhelming. This could be for a lot of reasons: maybe they wouldn’t like having to ask the webmistress to delete posts by querying the database; maybe they wouldn’t like the subpar “finding threads older than a few days” experience; or maybe they’d find our Onceler hyperfixation and the overwhelming thirst for Luigi to be childish and off-putting.
On the other hand, some people might find the lack of polish exciting.They might consider being forced to create new Threads because their thirst can’t be contained within the current performance of a single Thread delightful; they might rejoice when they figure out how to break the website for everyone else (and thus force the webmistress to scramble for an emergency fix); or they might be so done with everything that all they require is the ability to yell into the void with the reasonable certainty that the void won’t hurl insults in return.
Truth is, this is going to be a long journey. The further along this journey we are, the more likely you are to see the direction we’re going, and be able to fully decide whether you wish to accompany us along it. But, regardless of whether BobaBoard is for you right now, rest assured that we always want to hear your thoughts. While some of your needs might be incompatible with our own priorities (after all, no platform will ever be perfect for everyone), every little bit of feedback—positive or negative, well-thought-out or key-smashed into existence—sharpens our understanding and makes our vision better.
Q When will Realms launch? How will you select Realm owners?
While we’re itching to start sharing our vision with you all, we don’t have a launch estimate at this point. The Realms effort will be an inflection point in BobaBoard’s growth, and not one that can be rushed out the door.
In the same way, selecting the initial set of Realms will need careful consideration. You can help by telling us about your availability, interests and need through our "join or create a Realm" interest form.
You can keep up to date by subscribing to our newsletter (on the main page), or following us on other socials.
Q How much money will BobaBoard need? How will the level of profits influence BobaBoard’s future?
Within a series of really hard questions, these might be the hardest ones. A large part of BobaBoard’s product philosophy and processes are shaped by not having a clear answer. We’re working on the assumption that, at any point in time, we might realize our broader aspirations are not going to match our profitability. This means that, at any point in time, we’re making sure that what we build is as valuable and sustainable as possible within the means we reasonably foresee having access to.
The good news is that there might not ever be a better point in time to build ethical, privacy-oriented, community software for fandom (except for, as they say, yesterday). Users are increasingly more aware of the detrimental impact big corporations have on internet culture; the need for fenced-off spaces that protect our privacy is at an all-time high; and there is clear writing on the wall that
VultureVenture Capital (VC)-backed companies, always searching for the next profitable trend, are circling around community-based socials. Still, entering this space without relying on these capitalist institutions is going to be a hell of an effort with all odds stacked against us.
The bad news is that, although end users are more and more shielded from its rising costs and complexities, modern software is really, really expensive. Discord, the current standard for community software and—whether we like it or not—the home of large swaths of fandom activity, reported a revenue of $130 million in 2020 after raising a total of $483 million in VC funding (a bill they will have to pay back at some point). Put this side to side with the $500 thousand the Organization for Transformative Works raised in 2020—a well-deserved, hard-fought, impressive achievement that took years to materialize—and the picture becomes clear: if we want our software to come remotely close to the polish and stability we’ve come to expect in modern times, we’re going to need to be really good, really creative, and (maybe most of all) really lucky.
Now, the lucky news is that, while our full vision and ambitions can expand to fill any amount we end up raising, the lack of VC-funding allows us to aim for sustainability without scrambling for the hockey stick growth modern startups must seek. Not having to appease large investors allows us to grow sustainably while keeping our expectations and promises in check, and, of course, remaining on the lookout for new monetization opportunities and creative strategies to get to the next level.
Q How did you spend your “funding” until now? How will you spend it from now on?
Aside from keeping our small alpha server running and paying Ms. Boba’s rent, healthcare, and Peach Oolong tea while she works on BobaBoard full-time, most of our funding’s gone into taking our first baby steps into the world of external contractors, as well as into commissioning amazing fandom artists for our promotional material and merchandise. These investments gave us time to validate our initial ideas for the platform, organically grow our reach, and learn more about how to find suitable hires, delegate work effectively, and budget for the costs of engineering.
Recently, thanks to the financial boost provided by our innovative funding strategies, we’ve dipped toes into more permanent hiring. Our first part-time hire is an executive assistant, tasked with helping Ms. Boba do less of what she’s inefficient at (e.g. remembering to answer important emails, saving information where she can find it, making sure she’s keeping up with her humongous to-do list), and more of what she’s uniquely suited for (e.g. delineating the product vision, “helping others help her” by writing more documentation, doing heinous things like reading entrepreneurship newsletters to fill gaps in her expertise, and—if she’s lucky—coding).
As we expand our operations beyond the prototype community, we’ll have to step up our professional investments. Our next plan of action is hiring backend engineers on a contracting basis. This will help make Realms a reality in a reasonable time frame, while also leaving Ms. Boba space to focus on the monumental (and way more expensive) task of creating a responsive, accessible, cross-platform frontend that isn’t a pain to use.
If you'd like to help Ms. Boba not have to explain to her bobalings that their college fund went into building The Perfect Shitposting Platform, you can do so by supporting us.
Q How long is your current runway? What happens if you run out of money?
As you might have surmised by many of these answers, we’re being very careful and intentional about our expenses. Though there are limits to how far we can stretch our current resources, we’re trying our best to grow at a reasonable pace without crashing and burning midway through our goals.
The hard truth is that for this project to succeed, it needs at least one proficient, versatile, full-time software engineer/CEO at the helm. Luckily, Ms. Boba has had years of experience to hone her engineering skills, and is a fast, flexible learner who’s willing to make extreme sacrifices to reach her goals—even if these sacrifices include learning to enjoy business and marketing books. Less luckily, Ms. Boba isn’t in a position to permanently retire, and there will come a time when she has to figure out a way to keep paying her rent.
Currently, she believes she can at least gather enough support (paired with her existing savings) to fully dedicate a couple more years to BobaBoard’s development. During this time, one of her main priorities will be allowing BobaBoard to outlive her untimely return to the Evil Corporate Overlords by ensuring code and processes are well-documented, and by enabling interested parties to run BobaBoard’s Galaxies on their external servers.
At the same time, while an unremarkable website with a couple thousand users can survive on a single person’s work, this is not all we aspire BobaBoard to be. If we’re unable to scale our operations, BobaBoard will be unlikely to attract the customer base it needs to thrive at its full potential. To give it the chance it deserves, we’ll eventually need to figure out how to raise and invest a more significant amount of money. Ms. Boba’s ability to do so effectively will be the litmus test for the survival and final form of this project.
At this time, we haven’t even scratched the surface of potential funding avenues—a choice that has been deliberate. Options which could, well, kickstart a larger influx of funding need careful consideration: before resorting to them, we'd prefer to have a more refined idea of what it is we’re offering, and the deep certainty that we can live up to the expectations of potential investors. As we wait for the right moment, rest assured: for as long as Ms. Boba believes there’s a long-term chance for BobaBoard to succeed—something she continues to be deeply convinced of—she’ll keep dedicating her time and effort into bringing it to fruition.
Q Do you know more about your business model now? What options are you considering?
Finding “product-market fit”—that is, the famed spot where a business can sustain its product and its growth through a large-enough amount of paying customers—is the most arduous tasks of any entrepreneurial endeavor. No matter how skilled the team, there’s no certainty that the right strategy can be found before money runs out, or that paid offerings and pricing models will work out as predicted.
There’s no getting around it. This is an area where we’ll need to experiment, fail, and experiment again, over and over. Still, we’ve been working hard to understand our (still nebulous!) customer base, and—beyond once again promising that we’ll stay away from practices we believe are unethical—we’ve rounded up a few more intuitions about potential monetization avenues.
One of our options, and the first one we’ll likely explore, is to look at offerings that have worked for other modern, established social spaces. Given the similarities between Realms and Discord Servers , we’re likely going to be introducing our own version of Nitro. This might include giving Realms the ability to add more slots for useful or cosmetic resources (e.g. emojis, accessories, identities, roles), to unlock more fine-grained permission settings, or to customize visual aspects of their space (e.g. cursors, board backgrounds). Other services we’re looking at for inspiration include Reddit Awards, the perks Twitch streamers can offer to their community subscribers, and of course other "historical fandom favorites", like DreamWidth and even Flight Rising.
As we grow further and expand our operations, we plan to look beyond user-centric offerings. For example, we aim to learn from what other open source projects have done, and are considering, among other options, offering hosting services to those who want full control over their Realm or Galaxy (see masto.host, Discourse, and Ghost).
Beyond all this, we’re also exploring how our closeness to fandom might, in time, lead to more easily-monetizable side projects whose earnings we can reinvest in the community. And—last but not least—we’re not beyond playing around with non-traditional avenues, be that selling “ship ownership certificates”, or making hosting your Realm on bobaboard.gay part of our premium offerings.
As mentioned before, we do believe the appetite for better online spaces built by ethical companies is at an all-time high. While reaching profitability won’t be an overnight thing, we hope that by being smart about our offerings, growing at the right pace, and working hard to sensitize users about the need to support indie efforts, we can grow this project to its fullest potential.
Q Is BobaBoard going to be a non-profit company?
BobaBoard is currently being run by a sole proprietor, and might evolve into an LLC when the time is right. While the overhead of running a non-profit corporation might be worth it in the longer term, we don’t believe it is true at this stage.
For now, we aim to follow the model previously introduced by DreamWidth. Like DreamWidth before us, we believe in being as open and transparent as possible, and helping people understand our goals and motivations before independently deciding where their level of comfort is. While we won’t be bound by the same rules as a non-profit, we hope to reach a level of operational proficiency where we can offer a similar level of transparency.
Q How is the BobaBoard Organization going to be structured?
Right now, the BobaBoard “organization” is a dot-like structure.As the only full-time (albeit unpaid) employee, Ms. Boba has been in charge of setting the vision and priorities, coding up the majority of the alpha website, and making all decisions. Of course, she hasn’t done this alone: what BobaBoard now is only exists thanks to the input of current users/volunteers, the famed “shadow council”, and anyone who has listened to her rant about social networks.
This “centralized power” structure is unlikely to change in the very short term. While Ms. Boba has a lot of work she’d love to delegate, choosing the right people to take on large responsibilities is an arduous, time-consuming task, especially when you aim to set them up for success, rather than throw them off the deep end and blaming them for failing. To overcome this hurdle, it will be important as we move forward to build up processes, define positions, and document all the tidbits of vision and knowledge that Ms. Boba is hoarding in her significantly overworked brain. Not only will this not happen in a day, but it will involve a steep learning curve. After all, engineering and management are two very different skills.
As the project evolves, the type of organizational structure best suited to carry on BobaBoard will inevitably change. While Ms. Boba might be suited to spearheading the project at this stage, this won’t necessarily (or even likely) be true in the longer term. Still, the open source nature of BobaBoard means both that multiple stakeholders might naturally emerge in the longer term, and also that it’s possible for an entity dedicated to fostering fandom communities to exist separately from the organization leading the development of BobaBoard’s actual software.
Q What are the values and principles of the BobaBoard Organization?
- As seen in our principles document (with a couple of new additions):
- No single person, business, or organization should bottleneck people’s ability to experience fandom collectively.The platform must be resilient against those who seek to corrupt the principles it’s built upon.
- We treasure diversity among our users, collaborators, and stackholders, and regard it as one of our greatest advantages. While members of minority groups have historically found solace, refuge and community in (certain pockets of) the web, the more modern Internet, and especially the spaces controlled by large corporations, have been unwelcoming to them, when not outright dangerous. Building with and for underserved communities makes our spaces and software better.
- Contributors deserve to be paid fairly for their work. While we might never be able to stop partly relying on volunteers, a platform that survives only thanks to people willing to put in a disproportionate amount of effort does not fit our definition of “successful platform”—especially when most contributors are members of marginalized communities.
- Corollary: we’re not in the business of burning people out on the way to success. If our platform is to be built for members of marginalized communities, including disabled and neurodivergent individuals, working on it has to be accessible to them.
- The interests of profit-driven corporations will, for the foreseeable future, be at odds with the freedom of marginalized communities (and especially sexual minorities). If nothing else, because in order to get access to most VC money or payment processors, you have to keep an appearance of respectability.
- Corollary: capitalism-driven fandom is also at odds with the transgressive, revolutionary origins of transformative fandom.
- The “next home of fandom”, if there even should be such a thing, should embrace interoperability between different servers and services, and the principles of the open internet. We must demand that our social spaces outgrow walled gardens.
- Fandom is best done in small groups. A fandom space should be fun whether there’s 50 or 6000 people in it. Single-community spaces, like most modern social networks, are generally ill-equipped to healthily sustain hundreds of thousands of users.
- Fandom platforms should reward people who take the time to learn their intricacies. While more casual fans are welcome, fandom spaces should target the needs of people who understand fandom culture and lingo.
- While we’re silly, and provocative, and don’t take ourselves too seriously, BobaBoard aims to build on solid engineering principles with high professional standards.
Q Is BobaBoard open-source? What license do you use?
While we haven’t made a final decision yet, the frontend and server code will likely be licensed as GPLv3 or aGPLv3. Right now there are legal questions, both about the enforceability of the aGPLv3 license, and about how it would impact Ms. Boba’s work on future projects. This requires more research, and we’ll keep you up-to-date with our findings.
Q Are Realms going to be federated (like Mastodon)?
Not at first! To keep things short, there’s serious questions on how the security aspects of ActivityPub, the W3C standard federation protocol, will interface with anonymity. Having to address that challenge sufficiently would make it harder for us to iterate quickly, as well as needlessly constrain our creative freedom in this highly-experimental phase. We remain committed to fully exploring this option, and will keep revisiting it as our vision evolves and our code base stabilizes.
ActivityPub is also not the only way to decentralize, and we’re definitely considering other technologies. For example, we do foresee the possibility of integrating RSS in our custom feeds. In a similar way, Webhooks (which make it possible to receive notifications about BobaBoard activities on other services) are already a small part of our offerings. Our focus on embeds is also part of our decentralization strategy: by allowing people to pull content from other websites, BobaBoard can act as an aggregator rather than forcing all content creation to happen on its platform.
We’re definitely on the lookout for creative ways to integrate with more services, including our own when hosted somewhere else (e.g. through the ability to embed our own content or RSS). If you’re passionate about this subject and would like to get involved, please reach out to us through our tech volunteering form, or via email.
Q Your previous community guidelines section was vague! Do you have more concrete answers now?
Somewhat. Here at BobaBoard, we don’t think we should—up to a limit—be in the business of restricting content, but we do believe in setting higher standards of acceptable behavior than what modern social networks have done. Unfortunately, defining the boundaries of acceptability is an extremely difficult task, especially when your guiding motivation is about maintaining an overall welcoming and inclusive space, rather than banning “whatever puts the company’s profitability at risk”. There’s a fine line between being invested in the community’s health and being overbearing, and a large chasm between the terrible job corporations are doing, and control so strict that it makes everyone but our specific cultural circle walk on eggshells.
In a similar fashion, while big companies have largely failed at moderation by not allocating the right amount of money into it, we might never reach a budget large enough to hire as many moderators as we wish we could. While it might be possible for a service like AO3 to rely on volunteers to review content potentially outside their terms of service, this is a very different matter on a platform that will have a larger volume of interaction, actual pictures, and, very often, the need for a quicker response. If we’re not smart about avoiding putting too high a burden on our resources, we risk failing before even starting.
What’s important to understand is that we’re not setting out to build Paradise. It’s inevitable that there will be pockets of culture some people—us especially!—would personally disapprove of, and people that will be perfectly happy treating each other in ways we'd rather not be treated ourselves. Not all communities on BobaBoard will be “healthy”, and not all conflicts will be best solved by platform-level moderation. Still, we do strive to do a better job than larger corporations have historically done, both by taking active steps before known “hot zones” grow out of control, and by actively designing our tools to help engeder positive, fulfilling interactions.
We’re not going to lie, this is going to be hard. Even so, we believe we have an important advantage in knowing who we’re building our platform for: if you, like us, believe in a kinder, yet-still-weird internet, one where we can be wild and transgressive, one where we can both mistep and recover when toeing the line, and one that does not devolve into a cesspit of harassment and hatred, then we’re your allies. We’re not here to make moral judgements, nor to pretend we have all the answers while we deny the validity of people’s needs and feelings. We’re here to serve a wonderful, thriving, diverse community, and we’re trying to do it the best way we can. Trust us: we have real skin in this game.
Q How do Realms fit in BobaBoard's vision for moderation?
By empowering moderators and community builders at a more local level, Realms help us scale slowly and organically, gathering input from people who’ve seen (and dealt with) worse than us, and learning about communities that do fandom differently.
At the same time, by restricting the amount of users interacting in the same space, Realms buy us the time to build the tools we need to broaden our reach and ease our control. They will allow us to test our theories in the field, without the inevitable fires growing larger than we can effectively contain.
Building Realms give us the opportunity to understand the pitfalls and address the wishes of different types of fandom communities, along with improving our policies and processes based on the real needs of our actual user base. We don’t have an easy blueprint to follow, so we’re making one ourselves: it’s not a process we believe we can rush.
Q If I build a community on BobaBoard, how will I be protected from sudden policy changes?
The choice to make BobaBoard open source, as well as our commitment to decentralization, are part of a conscious effort to ensure others will be able to take up our mantle should we break our promises. While we can’t guarantee that moving a community from our platform to an external service will be both seamless and lossless (there’s real concerns about privacy in doing such a thing), we believe in data portability, and will create tools that enable your own data and content to be safely exported.
As for policy, while we might occasionally be forced to take swift action, we’re not in the business of making arbitrary decisions to kick people out, deleting their data, or denying them access to it. We’re fully committed to transparency, and, should we commit an error in taking action, we will work with the interested parties to find the best solution possible, and improve our processes for the future. We understand how other services have failed, and we fully intend to do better.
That aside, we also believe you shouldn’t trust us blindly. Please do keep an eye out for how we conduct ourselves, hold us accountable, and choose your level of comfort before (and after) putting your faith in us.
Q Are Boba-tan and Ms. Boba the same person?
Nope! While Boba-tan spends her days mascoting and her nights reading fanfiction, Ms. Boba had to set her favorite tropes aside for business books and entrepreneurship newsletters.
Q Can you copy-paste your contact information section from the previous FUCQs?
Absolutely! Feel free to get in touch with me. Though it might not immediately change my mind or plans, if you approach me in good faith and respect, I’ll gladly listen to and consider your feedback.
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